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Talking to Children about the Royal Prank

By Yvette Vignando - 10th December 2012

There are a million articles online talking about the Royal Prank* involving Australian radio station 2DayFM broadcasting a prank call to the hospital looking after pregnant Kate Middleton.  

Of course I join the worldwide sympathy and sadness for everyone affected by the suicide of Jacintha Saldanha, particularly her family.

But this morning, two things are on my mind:

-          the mental health of the two young radio hosts at the centre of the prank; and

-          how children are digesting and understanding the Royal Prank news story.

On the mental health front, I understand that the 2DayFM radio hosts are getting all the help and support they need – I hope that continues.  And I think we all have to be careful about how we express our opinions on the Royal Prank.  I echo what was tweeted out by Hugo Schwyzer this morning – in fact he was not referring to the prank but it’s still appropriate:

      “It's not tone-policing to say that our ends and means must be congruent. You want a kinder world, you have to be kind in fighting for it.”

But how have your children reacted to the news? Has it prompted you to talk about suicide with your children? Or have you had conversations about culpability? Or the role of the international media in the Royal Prank? Or ethics?

Our 11 year old said this morning something like “Don’t you think they are being a bit hard on those radio hosts?” showing me that he had some empathy for those young adults, but also showing me he was trying to work out whether anyone was at fault. So we had a discussion about the eggshell skull principle in law** and about ethics.  And about pranks. I’m not sure that he entirely ‘got’ everything I was saying but we started the conversation.

I’m interested to know what other parents are telling their children about the news, and how challenging that has been?

My personal take is that I would like my children to understand these things:

  • if you decide to play a trick on someone you need to think about what might happen as a result. You even need to think about what might happen to your ‘victim’ if they have illnesses or weaknesses that you don’t know about. (this is part of the “eggshell skull” principle)
  • lots of people in the world have disabilities or illnesses that we can’t see, and they are allowed to work and be in the community, and be protected
  • it’s none of our business what the mental health was of the nurse affected by this Royal Prank
  • people are entitled to medical privacy even if they are in the Royal family
  • it seems like the 2DayFM radio hosts involved in this Royal Prank did not know any better, and whoever was in charge of them made a decision that it was okay to broadcast the ‘phone call; it was not played live to air. Maybe nobody sat down with them and asked them questions like “If this prank meant somebody lost their job, would you be okay with that? Because it’s a possible consequence.”  When you have a job as an adult, it’s very important to find a good mentor and role model.
  • people in charge of broadcasting in media outlets should also provide good role models and mentors for young media personalities and they should run their broadcasting outlet according to clear ethical guidelines. Many Australian kids know what “ethics” are now, thanks to the introduction of ethics classes into some Australian schools and classrooms.

I am so grateful that our primary school-aged child goes to a school where he can have an hour of ethics education each week. Not every family has the capacity to talk about ethics or to teach ethics to their children.  We don’t yet know the full facts surrounding the decision to broadcast the Royal Prank so it’s early to be making judgements about ethics considered, or not, at the time.  But I wonder had anyone ever mentored the young radio hosts or their supervisors in ethics? I quote Pasi Sahlberg from the Department of Education in Finland:

    “In Finland, we say it’s easier to ski behind somebody else, you have the track and you know where to go. But if you’re the first one, you don’t see anything, it’s just snow and white.”

If the track you are skiing on and the skier you are following has not had an ethics education, then what?

I'm a huge fan of the outcomes achieved by the Finnish education system. In grades one to five, students in Finland are taught a broad ethics and human rights curriculum including what empathy means, telling right from wrong and about the importance of human rights and community, and the relationship between individuals and the world.

In this 21st Century when media broadcasts are circulated worldwide in an instant to billions of people, I can see how a solid ethics education for our children might change their experiences of the world.

*Please excuse me using “Royal Prank” as shorthand – it is just easier to refer to it that way online – I confess I’m not in love with that term.

** The ‘eggshell skull’ principle says that in cases of negligence, if you cause an injury to someone, you are liable for all their damages, even if that person (unexpectedly) had a vulnerability that increased the injury you might have expected them to have e.g. an eggshell thin skull.


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